Wales Election 2016

Steel crisis: Jones urges PM to give substantial support

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Media captionCarwyn Jones says it is 'heartening' to hear PM say that nothing is off the table

Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones has urged David Cameron to offer "substantial support" to potential buyers of Tata Steel plants.

Tata plans to sell its UK plants, which employ 15,000 people - 6,000 in Wales - and support thousands more.

Mr Jones said it was "heartening" to hear nothing was off the table after a crisis meeting in Downing Street.

Meanwhile tycoon Sanjeev Gupta has confirmed his interest in buying the whole of Tata's UK business.

The executive chairman of commodities firm Liberty House said he had a "positive" meeting with Business Secretary Sajid Javid, adding that everyone was "very motivated" to find a solution.

Earlier, he told the BBC: "Many [parts] are loss-making at the moment but we believe they can be turned around."

However, he reiterated his doubts about the viability of the blast furnaces.

"The biggest problem we see is the blast furnaces because they are importing all their raw material to smelt steel."

Image copyright WPA Pool

Mr Jones said his meeting with the prime minister and senior Cabinet colleagues had been "productive", covering issues such as pensions, energy costs and tariffs.

"Discussions have taken place with buyers - these are early days yet, but we do have something to build on even at this early stage," he said.

"If the UK government needs to take over Tata's assets in the short term to enable a sale process to take place then that's something the UK government should consider.

"What's important now is we carry on working to make sure the jobs we have in steel in Wales, and indeed the jobs in England, can be preserved for the future.

"Steel is a strategic industry for the UK - we can't imagine being a major industrial economy if we don't make our own steel."

The first minister said he was prepared to add to the £60m package of support being offered by the Welsh government to potential buyers.

But he added: "We don't have the resources of the UK government - their resources are far bigger than ours so there would need to be a substantial package put in place by the UK government as well."

Tata has plants in Wales at Port Talbot, Llanwern and Orb in Newport, Shotton in Flintshire and Trostre in Llanelli. The company also has sites in England, including Scunthorpe, Rotherham and Corby.

Also at the Downing Street meeting were Chancellor George Osborne, Business Secretary Sajid Javid, and Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns.

Mr Cairns said: "It is essential that we continue working together to secure a solid future for the plant and end the uncertainty for workers and their families."

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies added that the meeting showed "just how seriously the UK government are taking this matter".

Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams was pleased the two governments were "constructively meeting" but said they were not doing enough.

She wants UK ministers to call for EU tariffs on Chinese steel and to promise to take ownership of the Tata plants if needed.

Ms Williams said the first minister should also act by cutting business rates in Wales.

"Not having all the cards in your hand is no excuse for not playing the ones you do have," she added.

UKIP Wales leader Nathan Gill restated his call for Mr Javid to set up an emergency task force to look at ways of cutting energy costs for manufacturing.

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Image copyright Reuters

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Mr Cameron said: "We've got a very difficult situation with the steel industry in our country just as other countries do because we've got massive global over-capacity, a collapse in global prices and this makes a real challenge for our steel industry.

"But we've got a government that's determined to help in every way that we can. I met this morning with the Welsh first minister to talk about all the things we can do.

"We now want to make sure that Tata is looking seriously at a potential buyer for this business - and all of the business, I think it's very important to say that."

Welsh assembly members meeting to discuss the steel crisis on Tuesday were warned by Tim Morris, head of external affairs for Tata Steel Europe, that the sale process "can't go on forever" but the firm was "committed to acting responsibly" to find a buyer.

The enterprise and business committee also heard from union leaders, Cardiff-based Celsa Steel, and Economy Minister Edwina Hart.

She said Tata's sale announcement had been "a bolt from the blue".

But Mrs Hart added: "As far as I'm concerned the plants are staying open and we're going to get the deal done for them."

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has called for the government to assist with Tata's pension liabilities.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There has to be some government intervention, directly or indirectly, to lighten the burden of the pension liability with any new buyer."

Tata had a long-term future if the issue of cheap Chinese steel imports were addressed, he said, and it was "legitimate" for the government "to step in to help" as it had done with pension liabilities at Royal Mail.

Last week, Mr Cameron said the UK government was working to save thousands of steel jobs but warned there was "no guarantees of success". He also said nationalisation was not the right answer.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Conservatives of having an "ideological allergy to public ownership".

The union plan involves securing the customer base by guaranteeing production at Tata sites, not allowing Tata or other buyers to "cherry pick" parts of the business, and offering government support for two to three years while the industry gets "back to self-sustainability".

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